On The Satisfaction of Not Making Your Money From Writing

Time is moneyIn this rather disturbing article, The Guardian points out (amongst other hairy statistics) that 77% of self-published authors are making less than £600 per annum. In another article, the figures are a bit different, but no less pessimistic: it states that the median income of authors has dropped from just £6,000 13 years ago to less than £4,000 per annum.  This means that for the vast majority of writers out there, even those who are actually managing to sell books in respectable numbers, they’re only making a fraction of they money they need to make in order to make a living.

Apart from the obviously negative associations with that, one has to wonder, what else are they doing? Either they must be in receipt of dole or bursaries, or they have another job.

I’d love to do a survey to find out what authors – authors of novels and poetry in particular – really do for money. Perhaps a look at the data would tell us not that writing doesn’t pay the bills, but rather might indicate the proper formula for balancing life as a writer with what else we must do (and often, it must be said, what we can also be very good at) in order to live.

Imagine the satisfaction of the following conversation. You’re at a snooty cocktail party, holding a diamond-encrusted glass of Cristal. A nasal whine arrives in your ear.

The Critic:  “Well, helllleeeeugh. Ay am T.W. Pompington-Spendthrift. One hears yew are a write-air. Have ay heard of yew?”

The Writer:  “Possibly not. I’m really only starting out.”

Banker countingThe Critic: “Oh reall-air? End whot do yew write? Whot publication would ay have seen yew in?”

The Writer:  “I self-published a novel last year. Contemporary fiction. You might not have seen it in the shops, but I managed to sell a few.”

The Critic:  “Ah. But whot do yew do for mon-air?”

The Writer:  “I have a full-time job as well. I write in my spare time.”

The Critic:  “A full-time job? Reall-air? How awe-ful. End whot is that, precisely?”

The Writer:  “I’m your bank manager, actually. And I have to tell you, you really should do something about that overdraft. It’s costing you a fortune, and your ongoing capital erosion is something shocking. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be selling off three-quarters of your assets at fire-sale prices by the end of the year.”


For my own part, I couldn’t imagine anything worse, or more destructive to creativity, than having to rely on my writing output in order to put food on the table.  Writers often wonder whether having a full-time day job is conducive or obstructive when it comes to the writing life. I’m inclined to think that the structure and routine which accompanies a day job means that more writing gets done, because procrastination is less of an option. On the other hand, this may not work with tight writing deadlines. But I can’t imagine anything of value coming out of this writer’s brain if I were also struggling with the financial realities of being a full-time writer.

I’m sure there are other people who might view my situation with horror, trying to keep up what essentially amounts to 2 jobs. They are probably the people who work best when concentrating on the one thing. Having said that, many writers do some form of teaching, so that accounts for something.

Money harvestI also wonder, however, what it’s like to sell your work in those circumstances. Job interviews are easier when you have a job, for instance, because people can smell desperation a mile off. The more relaxed you are, the more engaging you are, for the most part. The tone of this blog might be very different if I were under pressure to build up a following in order to sell books. And the tone of my novels might be very different if I were under pressure to sell them quickly.

So which type of writer, artist, or even serious hobbyist are you? Are you a double-jobbing or focused on your craft? And which do you think is best?

  21 comments for “On The Satisfaction of Not Making Your Money From Writing

  1. February 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Tara, really like this post, the dialogue is hilarious. As you probably know I write history, historical fiction and poetry while working full time in the military and managing a museum heritage project. I have a young family too and so much of what you say rings true. I would love to be able to make a living from the writing but not sure if I would get much done!


    • February 6, 2014 at 12:15 pm

      Michael – that list of activities perhaps makes you the busiest person in writing. Making it true what they say – if you want something done, ask a busy person! Impressive!


  2. February 6, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    I’m retired but I’m heavily involved in our local GP surgery’s patient group (that I chair for and represent at a regional PPG Umbrella Group) so that takes up a fair bit of my time along with some ‘spare time’ graphic design pin money (but not always paid as I waive any fee for my PPG contacts).
    I’ve taken my pension early but also get ESA benefit which means I have enough income to eke out for most of the creature comforts leaving me with ‘golden time’ for self-publishing, online promotion or networking like on here, writing community moderation and admin and stick the actual writing in at the end somewhere along the line. I really count forum or blog writing as ‘proper’ writing too – it all keeps the juices flowing and if you bung the odd gag in here and there it’s all good! 😉


    • February 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I see a common thread here of exceptionally busy people! It sounds like a great mix, Jan. And the more interest you have, the more you feed your creativity.


  3. February 6, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Loved the article, your article’s matter of fact, to the point and easy to read. You sprinkled with a light, cool touch cool humor. Which, personally speaking – I find delightful. Have a great day!


    • February 6, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      I will have a great day – thanks to you, Sherman, ‘cos you just made my day! 🙂


      • February 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

        I’m sure you caught my typo… they happen when my fingers race with my mind. At the end of the day, the winner is …. the mind. { * _ * }


  4. February 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm

    At the moment, we’re a one-income family and I “work from home,” taking care of our son during the day and writing/blogging (irregularly) late into the night. I take on freelance copy-editing work from time to time and I also used to teach. In an ideal world I’d like to earn money by teaching and copy-editing more and have enough time left over for writing/being with my family. In an even more ideal world, I’d have seasons that I could devote to each thing seperately and earn money from writing, too! For now, though, writing’s a pleasure and I like it that way 🙂


    • February 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Any parent who writes has 2 full-time jobs in my book! But it is so important that writing stays a pleasure. If it didn’t, why would we do it?


      • February 6, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        True, true. Besides being a pleasure, it’s also a compulsion, much like food!
        PS I’ve only just started following your blog but look forward to reading more. And I’m also a fan of spreadsheets!


        • February 6, 2014 at 10:41 pm

          Mmmmmm…. spreadsheets……..
          Oh dear, there’s me off again. You know, if I can’t sleep, I don’t count sheep. I count column charts. Mmmmmm…. 😉


  5. johanna buchanan
    February 6, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    And the moral of the story is don’t give up the day job. Whoops – too late!


    • February 6, 2014 at 4:51 pm

      Now now, positive thinking! It works for a lot of people. I think the most important thing is to have the wisdom to know when it doesn’t work.


  6. carolannwrites
    February 6, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    Phew… glad to hear other ‘real’ writers are managing to fit it in… For me it’s in between teaching Junior infants, running a writing centre and being a mammy. :O
    Tara this blog is hilarious! 🙂 🙂


    • February 6, 2014 at 10:42 pm

      That means you have 4 jobs, Carolann! For the love of God, and with the state of unemployment in this country! Leave something for the other kids!!


      • carolannwrites
        February 7, 2014 at 6:16 am

        After this week of parent teacher meetings and having little time to write… my junior infants are up for grabs…


  7. February 7, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    double jobbing too – but haven’t got around to starting my next book yet! However, I need tight deadlines to get focused otherwise I procrastinate for ever and simply dream about writing! Great post 🙂


    • February 7, 2014 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Lorna! You and I are obviously cut from the same cloth. We need the big stick of time to beat us into productive submission. Still and all, I find myself looking at pictures of cats waaaaay too often….


  8. February 10, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Reblogged this on World of Writing and commented:
    An insightful post on the challenges of making a living from writing, from the quirkily original blogger Tara Sparling.


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